Test: Nikon 1 AW1 – Thumbs up in Multiple Ways

A serious camera to go under the surface – without having to pay a small fortune. Yes, so were the reactions when Nikon released their Nikon 1 AW1. The legacy of the worldwide known underwater camera Nikonos goes on – and does it well.

Many recognize the name Nikonos Calypso from 1963, the camera that came to mark a milestone in the history of the analog film. The reason was the ability to shoot under water with 35 mm film in a camera which managed most of it and was really compact. The later models with working auto focus and analog video is also used today due to its durability and quality.

But now it’s time for an upgrade on the digital side. It is now around two years ago that Nikon started production of its Nikon 1 models, which at the time was a brand new model with the new sensor and new bayonet. And just as the Nikonos took over the world, hope Nikon also new Nikon 1 AW1 will be the same here again. Chances are, because what we are seeing now is the first compact system camera, built-in water resistance down to 15 meters, and the shock of falling from 2 metres.

A lot of heritage

Inside the waterproof shell of aw1, we find a large legacy from Nikon 1 J3, which in turn inherited some things from the higher model Nikon 1 V2. The sensor is the same at 14 Megapixels in cx format and an iso range of 160-6400 iso. In the camera, we find also built-in gps, compass and depth meter, as well as the possibility of shooting in 15 frames per second with full autofocus.

The camera is compatible with all Nikon 1 lens, but to get the water density so you must of course use Nikkor 1 AW lens. These lenses will not work on other Nikon 1 cameras.

As with J3 we find therefore also mode moving photo, catch the best moment, creative mode and advanced mode, as well as slow motion mode with 400 or 1200 frames per second creating a video. Functions also work as good as in J3.

Design wise, we feel well again because the design from the entire Nikon 1 concept, although much different on the front we find a patterned grip for fingers, as needed, and at the back there is a really good rubber grip for the thumb. Aw1 is really comfortable to hold, and the keys have a good ranking. However, there is one thing that I am bothering me on, and it’s the zoom buttons above the thumb grip. The buttons feel something small and something trapped above the small protrusion where you hold your thumb. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes a bit fiddly to press these, especially if you have gloves on. Unfortunately, it becomes not easier by using these two buttons to adjust the shutter speed and the aperture up or down. In addition to this thing, I think that Nikon has solved the concept well.

The camera should be able to be dropped from 2 m, which is also really good to be a compact system camera, which actually is composed of two components — camera bodies and lenses. It is also between these that the weakest link is. However, I feel the whole combination as a really sturdy construction, with high build quality feels durable.

Smart features

Nikon AW1 has not received any program selection knob on top, but these modes adjust inside the camera’s menus, or by using the function button. Great solution, and easier with button than twisting – requiring two hands. Then we have the smart selector button lets you select a setting by using the camera’s so-called motion control, which simplifies Setup by bytes. Press and hold the button you can then tilt the camera to the correct mode to adjust between the different camera programmes. Really smart, and it works quite smoothly under water.

A large, but simple plus, is that it becomes a really good contrast with the black camera body and the white button text under water – something that several other manufacturers sometimes miss on their underwater cameras. It is therefore no problem to locate keys quickly. Screen of 3 inches has 921 thousand pixels and good direction angle with nice contrast. In the menu there is also a mode that allows you to get extra contrast, which simplifies the readability in muddy water.


aw1: ans autofocus feels fast and stable. Indoors in low light, you’ll find the right focus reasonably quickly and fairly safe. In daylight, it is fast and secure, and under water in light environment, it is also no problem. The face following setting works really nicely also, and it feels as if the action generally works well, something which I myself otherwise experienced problem among many other underwater cameras of the compact camera type.

Image quality

Sensor we find in AW1 is the same as that of the Nikon J3 and V2, which in turn produces images that are really good, with good auto white balance and good resolution for the small size that the sensor actually has. It’s also a smart move to have with this particular sensor in a camera like this to get to a compact size of the camera body.


The fact is that Nikon AW1 is a unique camera, which are difficult to compare with other cameras that can withstand that go beneath the surface with. The big SLR housings require expensive underwater housing, and the waterproof came pacts that are have the same limitations as regular compact cameras.

The AW1, Nikon has also chosen to produce the associated camera shell in silicone. Skins allow you to get a camera that is more convenient for you – a brilliant orange to see it, a black to hide it, or just to get a better grip.

In this way, it is a thumbs up for Nikon developing Nikon 1 concept further, and now with the ability for anyone to step into a world with more advanced underwater photography without costing the Earth. And because the camera works equally well above that in the water so it fits also very many.